When sixteen-year-old Alexsi Ivanovich Smirnov, an orphan trying to survive in Azerbaijan during the 1930s, is captured by the Russians, he’s sent to Moscow, where he undergoes a series of tests.
Initially, Alexsi was spared the horrors of imprisonment (or worse) in Siberia because the Russians observed his street smarts and cunning, quick-witted personality. Additionally, on top of speaking Russian, Alexsi is also fluent in both Farsi and German, which meant he had some value–if he could be trusted–hence the testing.
Eventually, the Russians reveal their plan and the reason they were so thorough getting to know Alexsi while understanding his thought process, beliefs, and outlook on the world. They want him to pretend to be a surviving member of a German family who were all killed, then head back to Germany with a Russian operative posing as his uncle to infiltrate the Nazi intelligence force by working his way up the ranks.
Mr. Shultzes, the father of the slain German family, was a high-ranking official in the Nazi regime, making this a unique opportunity for the Russians–and Alexsi is their ticket in.
The proposition turned out to be less of a request, though, when it was revealed to Alexsi that his only other option was life in a prison cell. So, taking the Soviet secret police (NKVD) up on their offer, he was trained in all the necessary areas to develop the skills and tradecraft he’d need for the job, then sent to Munich.
Eventually, after proving himself to the Germans on the battlefield, Alexsi is assigned to a military intelligence station in Berlin, where he comes to work for legendary spy man Wilhelm Canaris. Thriving in his new role, Alexsi keeps his word to the Russians and begins sending coded messages back to Moscow (through clever means) and fulfilling his duties as a spy. The story takes a sudden turn, though, when the Germans ask Alexsi to partake in a dangerous mission called Operation Long Jump.
In 1943, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin all made plans to meet in the Soviet’s embassy in Tehran, Iran. Their meeting became known as the Tehran Conference, and the Gestapo (the Nazis’ secret police) tasked Alexsi with infiltrating the site with the intention of assassinating all three famous attendees.
While Alexsi is intimately familiar with high-pressure, nerve-wracking situations, he’s about to be tested like never before as both the NKVD and Gestapo close in on the young spy–who must decide which side to pledge his allegiance to once and for all.
Writing in a way that makes readers feel like they’re back in the 1930s and 40s, William Christie does a tremendous job making such a complicated and convoluted subject seem simple. On top of that, the highly detailed historical events make the entire story feel more like nonfiction than fiction.
The blurred line between fact and fiction isn’t always easy to see, but one thing is certain: Alexsi is a phenomenal new character.
A cross between Dusko Popov (the real-life spy who James Bond is based on) and Uncharted‘s Nathan Drake, Alexsi is a likable young man who does whatever’s required for his survival. Truthfully, while his loyalty to both Germany and Russia are often tested, his only real loyalty is to staying alive–and whoever or whatever gives him the best odds at accomplishing that goal.
The survival instinct Alexsi carries plays well in this story, and Christie does a fine job showing off his protagonist’s skills (like lock-picking and top-notch escape abilities) long before he’s living the life of a double agent. He’s a little rough around the edges and jaded, but for good reason, of course, and all of that adds to making him a fascinating character to follow along.
Christie starts fast, slowing down just long enough to explain the necessary and intricate details readers will need to know for later on in the story, then amps it up, delivering a heart-pounding conclusion that may (or may not) leave the door open for more Alexsi in the future.
Author: William Christie
Pages: 390 (Hardcover)
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Release Date: April 25, 2017 (Order Now!)